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University of Wisconsin-Madison

Impacting Health Care: Family Caregivers and Medication Management

Family caregivers play a vital role in providing care to older adults and helping them remain in their homes and communities. Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States provides unpaid care to an older adult relative or friend. However, this support comes at a substantial cost to the caregivers themselves, their families, and society. The estimated value of this care is over $450 billion, or about $1,500 for every person in the United States.

Managing medications is the most common medical task reported by family caregivers, which can be difficult and time-consuming due to the complexity of medication regimens used by older adults. Additionally, caregivers often receive little or no training to perform this task. Although approximately 30% of family caregivers and their older adult care recipients live in rural areas, little is known about this population. Further, many caregivers must also address their own family or health issues. Organizations that advocate for older adults such as AARP have called for further studies to understand the tasks performed by family caregivers and their needs for training and support.

Dr. Kevin Look, PharmD, PhD, has been conducting research on medication management by caregivers and the challenges they experience, particularly in rural areas. “There is a critical need for information on the medication management activities performed by caregivers in rural areas and the problems that they encounter,” says Look. “Our objective is to examine the barriers faced by family caregivers when managing older adults’ medications in rural areas, and to identify successful strategies used to overcome these barriers.”

The ultimate goal for this research is to improve the safety and appropriateness of medication use for older adults in rural areas receiving care from a family caregiver. The information obtained from this study will provide the foundation to increase awareness of potential problems faced by caregivers at the national, state, and patient levels, and will also guide the development of interventions to help rural caregivers safely and effectively manage medications for their care recipients.